Italy Guide

Italy Guide

Italy City Guides

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Getting out there

Getting out to Italy has become very easy due to increasingly cheap airfares and equally cheap network transport within the country. Airlines such as Jet2 and Easyjet fly out to all the main mainland airports as well as Pisa, Bari and Sicily and Sardinia. Unlike other European countries Trenitalia does not offer a student discount, but tickets are so cheap you won’t even notice.

Getting around

Most cities in Italy have good public transport, and almost all of them offer monthly travel cards. Prices will vary from city to city but in general they tend to be around €20 for the student ticket and E30 for the standard one. Although you may be eligible for student passes in your own country because you have a national or international card, some towns and cities in Italy require you to be a student at their university so be aware that often you have to pay full price for tickets. Never forget to stamp your ticket, whether travelling by train, bus, tram or metro as the fines are considerably high. Trenitalia tend to charge a fine of €25 on a one way ticket but it can go as high as €200 (depending on your destination and ticket price). Prices on public transport vary, but a fine of €100 has been known to be given out on a bus ticket costing only €0.80 so be careful!

Make the most of your time in Italy as there is so much to see and it costs very little to get there. Although the Italian rail service gets a bad press, it covers a great deal of the country and it is cheap, making it a great choice to get from one city to the next. The Eurostar covers destinations such as Venice, Florence, Milan and Rome so for a few extras Euros you can save a couple hours off your trip.

Life in general

Italy is always associated with Pasta, Pizza, Ice cream and coffee, and although once you get there you will no doubt savour all of these on a regular basis, Italy has a lot more to offer. Try the local and regional dishes and wines and discover a new side to Italy that fails to be as famous as it should be. Make the most of what Italy has to offer, but remember these two rules: always be polite to ANYONE older than you and never have a cappuccino after 11am as it’s a sure sign that you do not know Italian etiquette and you are therefore a tourist!!

Business opening hours; are not the same as those in England, and are very difficult to follow as there seem to be no rules, except in the cities. Shops will be open from 9am until 5pm and sometimes on the weekend, although expect Sundays (no matter where you are) to be difficult. Most places are open at lunchtime, and every shop (except big chains and supermarkets) will inevitably have one day a week excluding Sunday that they will have off.

Food, Drink and Going Out

The Italians pride themselves on being the best cooks and wine growers in the world. Should you choose to disagree, it's perhaps best not to say anything to the Italians themselves (unless they’re your friends) as you risk starting a rather lengthy argument, and causing great offence.  Make the most of it while you are there and find any excuse to sit in a “trattoria” for lunch enjoying the “vino della casa” with your meal. The flavours will inevitably vary from region to region, but the best way to discover them is by asking what is local, or ordering the dish that has been named after the restaurant and is therefore either a local speciality or the chef’s invention.

If you want to head out clubbing, some cities are severely lacking in nightlife compared to the UK, most of them are outside of towns and require you to drive or take public transport, so be prepared. Drinking in bars is expensive so the best option is to have few drinks at home before you head out. Nightclubs and bars tend to be open until the early hours of the morning unlike here so people go out much later. Most towns/cities have night buses, but if not you will have to get a taxi or wait for the first bus in the morning. One thing that is very important is that drunken behaviour that we witness frequently and find acceptable in Britain, is NOT acceptable in Italy. It is totally socially unacceptable to be drunk and collapse or vomit on the streets and should you live in a small town you will quickly build a reputation for yourself that you will find very hard to shake. Harsh words, but Italy is not accustomed to such behaviour, and you will be judged rather harshly.

Telephone and Internet

The international dialling code for Italy is +39 and to make calls to England it is +44.

Mobile; Once out in Italy we suggest that you get a 'pay as you go' mobile as a contract is expensive and actually rather complicated to obtain. There are many operators to choose from but the better ones are TIM, Wind and Vodafone. You can buy a Sim card for any of these networks for only €5 of which €2 is credit, and it will work in any handset on any network. If you want to buy a new handset they are cheap and are all unlocked no matter which shop you get it from. Charges vary but most operators charge between €0.10 and €0.15 per text.

Landline; If you are interested in getting a fixed line in your apartment which can work out much cheaper than a mobile, then again there are many different service providers to choose from. It is rare to find a flat that does not already provide one as they are often part of the requirements, but should you need to then go with Telecom Italia who are the main providers in Italy and offer good deals.

Public; If you do not feel the need for internet or a phone line in your apartment then there are always other options. You will find phone boxes and internet points all over the country where the costs of calls will vary from each country you’re calling. From there you will be able to make international calls at low prices as well as use the internet for between €1 and €2 an hour.


Codice Fiscale; this is your tax form, which you have to get if you are going to be employed. To get it you will need your passport and a photocopy of your passport.

Permesso di Soggiorno; this is a document that registers you as a temporary resident in Italy, a little like a visa. Go to the post office and collect the yellow striped envelope, you will need your passport, 4 passport photos, a photocopy of your passport, proof of address (Codice Fiscale).


Making sure that you control your finances will help you to enjoy a stress free year abroad. It is advisable that you open a bank account whilst out there as it will save you any charges that apply when withdrawing money with your English card. It will also allow you to transfer money and pay bills more easily.

Opening an Account; Opening an account may prove a bit more difficult than in England. To set up a bank account you will need the following things:

  • Your passport 
  • Your residency permit (Permesso di Soggiorno if you are from outside the EU) 
  • A proof of address (e.g. your telephone bill, electricity/gas bill, rent contract/receipt, etc.) including your name and address. 
  • Codice Fiscale (your fiscal document that proves you can legally work)

Check with your bank in your home country if there is an associated bank in Italy, which may simplify some operations. Otherwise, if you do not have particular needs, it is probably better to choose one of the main I banks because of the larger network of their branches. The major banks in Italy are:

Also try these two regional banks as they are all over Italy:

Few banks have special offers for students and young people unlike other European countries. Again we suggest that you shop around and find an account that suits you.

Banking hours; Standard banking hours are Monday to Friday from 9:00 to 13.00 and 14.30 to 16.30. Few banks will extend hours to the weekend and in small towns banks do not tend to re-open after lunch. Some branches open on Saturdays (usually from 9:00-13:00).

Money Transfers; Just go to your bank or local internet point (as they for the most part operate with Western Union), and fill out a request form that allows you to transfer money in 3 working days. The standard charge should be around E5 but it depends on the bank. You can however pay rent (to most landlords) and bills through your British bank account and therefore you avoid fees.

Standard Services; Italian accounts charge a monthly fee for holding an account with them, some are as low as €1 others will go much higher, so make sure you are aware of this before you sign anything. Check the conditions on your account to avoid bad surprises. Charges for overdrafts are high and some banks will also charge for not using your account for an extended period of time. Unauthorized overdrafts mean a bank can block your credit card or withdraw your cheque-book. Depending on the bank and your income, there are different overdraft schemes; if necessary, you should negotiate this when opening your account. We highly recommend that you do not take an overdraft option, getting stuck into your overdraft can be very expensive and banks are less lenient towards foreign students.

Bank statements are usually sent monthly and sometimes, you can opt for more frequent statements. All Italian banks now have good phoning and internet services so everything can be done faster.

A cheque book is usually provided free as standard on a current account and will be sent in 1-2 weeks. Credit, debit and cash cards can cost between €15-€45 /year and will be sent in 1-2 weeks, but most are provided when you open the account.


The Italian health system is relatively low cost and is of a good standard. You must have some form of health insurance when you arrive in Italy otherwise you cannot obtain your Permesso di Soggiorno.

EU/EAA citizens: If you are citizen of one of EU/EEA countries and moving temporarily to Italy or looking for cover at the start of longer stay, you are automatically entitled to free basic health care in Italy due to reciprocal agreements among EU countries. Since the 1st June 2004, European citizens who are traveling within the European Economic Area are given a European Health Insurance Card, which simplifies the procedure when receiving medical assistance during their stay in a Member State. The European Health Insurance Card replaces forms E111 and E111B, E110, E128 and E119. Apply for the European Health Insurance Card. You will get all doctors visits either free or at a very low cost, including specialists and dentists and it will pay for a great part of your medicines.

Non EU/EAA citizens: If moving temporarily from a non-EU/EEA country to Italy, check with your relevant local agency whether there is a bilateral agreement that will cover you in Italy. These normally cover only limited urgency healthcare and you are advised to get comprehensive private insurance. If you get private insurance, make sure that they provide cover in Italy, have a local office or partner and read the small print so you know what's covered (and what's not!).
If you are employed in Italy your employer will cover your health insurance, you will need to go to the Azienda Sanita Locale and register with a doctor. Once you have registered you will be issued with a health card and number that will make all your doctors visits free.

Payment and Reimbursement; A general doctor may charge from €20-€30 for a consultation, a specialist €30-€35. Fees will be higher at night or the weekend - a home visit will also cost more. In Italy you are eligible to go and see any doctor under appointment. Do be careful though as specialists in certain areas of medicine can be very expensive so always ask before you make an appointment.

Whether you are insured or not you will still be required to pay for your treatment and medication up front. Make sure that you keep a record of all treatments and any receipts or prescriptions relating to the treatments which will be required by your insurance company in order to reimburse the money.

Emergency; In an emergency don't worry about insurance, head straight to the nearest hospital. The doctors are legally obliged to treat you whether you are insured or not. It is however left to the doctor's discretion to decide whether it is an emergency or not.

Should you ever find yourself in such a situation call on of these numbers (free from any phone):

  • Ambulance: 118
  • Fire Brigade: 115
  • Carabinieri: 112
  • Polizia: 113
  • Highway Rescue: 116

Quick tips for finding accommodation in Italy

Finding accommodation in Italy at short notice can be tricky. However, don't panic as it can definitely be done. This guide has been written in order to help you find accommodation in your host city in the quickest time and with the least hassle.

Step 1 - Define the criteria

Set your budget - the cheaper accommodation will get snapped up relatively early, usually by the local students. So be prepared to book early or to set your budget slightly higher than you had originally planned for.

Define an area - have a look at a map of the city, or have an idea in your head within what area you are willing to live, be aware that being close to the university may be practical but is not always a good idea. If you want any more specific advice on where is good to be in your host city, have a read of our city guides. If the guide for your host city has not yet been published please don't hesitate to get in contact with us and we try to give you some more detailed advice.

Know what you are looking for - if you are looking to share with friends in a bigger flat, then be warned; in Italy most apartments with 4 or more bedrooms come un-furnished and finding a furnished place in a good area for a good rate will be difficult. It may be a better option to split into smaller groups as you will have more chance of finding somewhere that fits.

Step 2 - The search

There are two main methods to go about finding accommodation in Italy and indeed any country.

1. Trawl through the classifieds and contact landlords directly. This method can obviously be very time consuming but it will inevitably save you money as there will be no agency fees to pay.

Where to look:

There are loads of good classified sites where you can find lists and lists of properties for rent. Most regions will have there own local paper which is probably the best place to look. Some of them do have web sites some don't. The best way to find out if there is a web site for the area where you are going to is navigate to and then search appartamenti + the name of town/city (e.g. appartamenti Roma).

There are a few sites which have ads for right across the country. The best of them are:

Use the criteria that you have defined above to narrow down the search results, be patient and methodically go through the ads. For the best chances of finding a property make sure that you call the landlords as opposed to emailing them, we know it's tempting to email but you will lose precious time and the chances are people won't reply.

2. Go through an agent - Estate agents in Italy are all pretty much the same

They will have a list of properties and will do all the leg work to find somewhere that suits you. You will also sign the contract with the estate agent and any future correspondence will be directly through them. You will only ever be asked to pay any money once the accommodation is secured and the contract has been signed. If anybody asks you to pay anything before this moment please be very careful and make sure you know the reason why. This is obviously a very easy solution and little work will be involved however you will pay for it. Agents normally charge 1 months rent for their services, but beware there may be other fees involved, and if at any stage you wished to finish your contract as a result of unforeseen circumstances you may be charged with the task of finding a replacement tenant. All agencies vary and you can expect different things from each so make sure that you read and fully understand their terms and conditions before signing anything.

Step 3 - Found It!

If you have gone through an agent, it will all be fairly straightforward; however, they may be more stringent as to what papers you have to present and what deposit you have to pay. Again, this will really depend on the agent. So make sure you know what you are in for when you agree to take one of their properties.

If you have gone down either of the other two roots, then you will be dealing directly with the landlord. This does mean that you are slightly more vulnerable, but so long as you are prudent and you make sure you fully understand what you are reading, then you should be ok.

The standard process is as follows:

When you go to visit the property, make sure you have as much information about you as possible. Landlords will usually only do one or two viewings, so there may be more than just you there. Once you have had a chance to look round, you will give the landlord your 'dossier', a collection of almost mandatory papers. This should include: Proof of address in England and if you have one in Italy, even better.

A guarantor - many landlords do not require this but if you are going through an estate agent they almost certainly will. It may prove problematic as the Italians can be bureaucratic when it suits them and will sometimes require this to be an Italian person. In general, to have a valid guarantor, you will need proof of their address, their equivalent of a P60 (showing what they earned in the last financial year) and their last three pay slips. We understand that 95% of you wont be able to provide these papers, but don't worry, there are ways around it. If you explain your situation and that you can provide English guarantors they might accept that. Most likely though, is that they will ask you for a slightly larger deposit than they would a local, so 3 months instead of the standard 2. To grease the wheels a bit, it might be an idea to offer to pay a couple of months in advance if you can afford it.

Proof of identity - make sure you have a valid proof of identity with you. If you take your passport, make sure it is a copy that you leave with the landlord.

If your application for the property is accepted, you should expect to get a phone call from the landlord telling you what you will need to do next. This is not always the case as you may be able to secure the property when you go to visit it.

The Contract

This is the most important stage of the process! Please make sure that you have carefully read over the contract and that you fully understand every little clause in there. If at any stage you require any help with the language please do not hesitate to contact us.

Most contracts are fairly standard but be aware there are different laws applicable for furnished and unfurnished properties. If you are renting an unfurnished property, the governing law is much more protective of the tenant whereas the law for furnished property whilst still providing adequate protection is less so.

Please make sure that you are clear on the actual rent of the property. Some but very few properties expect you to pay communally for the building staircases to be cleaned, or for the printing of name tags on letterboxes etc…and as a rule of thumb we would suggest that you steer clear of properties where the charges are not included in the rent as you may be in for a nasty surprise. These charges do not include gas, electricity and water. Expect to have to pay for these utilities on top of your monthly rent, unless it is clearly stated in your contract.

Once you have signed the contract, make sure that you keep an original copy of it.

At this time you and the landlord are required by law to carry out an inventory of the apartment. This will involve a thorough inspection of the apartment and noting down the general condition of all aspects of each individual room. The rooms are normally divided up into; floor, walls, ceilings, doors and windows. Please make sure that you agree with everything that the landlord notes down and that you also note down anything in particular that is wrong with the property. If possible take photos and send a copy of them to the landlord. This may seem like an over the top process but it is the first step to making sure you get your deposit back at the end of the year. The completed document and any photographic evidence should then be attached to the contract and a signed copy kept by both parties.

Paying the rent

You will be asked by the landlord to set up a direct debit into their bank account. If you would like to benefit from our English banking service then please don't hesitate to ask. Either way, please make sure that you pay your rent every month on time and in full. If not you could get yourself into some serious trouble.

Living with Italian people – “I coinquillini”

If you are looking to live with Italian people during your year abroad, then there are a few things that you have to do differently:

To give yourself the best chance of finding some flat mates whilst out in Italy, you really need to be out there when you’re looking. Lots of students understandably want to meet their future housemates in person and phone calls and emails just won't do. So prepare yourself to spend a few days out there when you can go and meet people and discuss what you would need to enjoy a successful “convivenza”. Meeting your future housemates will also help to make sure that you won't be in for any surprises when you get out there either.

There are a few sites that are dedicated to help you find flat mates in Italy;

With most of them you should be allowed to post an ad for free and also send messages to others. However, if you want their contact details you will have to pay, but it is probably worth your while as it really isn't expensive.

Please be careful what information you give out and to whom, there are a lot of strange people on these sites and never be tempted to take a room where the rent appears to be free, you will be expected to pay in other ways!

Again it is worthwhile calling people as it makes a good first impression, you must remember that usually many other people will also be interested in the same offers as you so you will have a bit of competition to contend with.

Once you have found people who you want to live with and who are happy to rent you a room, you should agree on a contract that suits both you and the other tenants. This can be quite tricky, so go through it carefully.

Sub-letting is really common with Italian students. However, if you are going to be sub-letting from another Italian student, make sure that all the legal’s are correct and present. In order to sublet legally, the primary tenant must have written permission from the landlord, which is usually not the case, making the sub-let completely illegal and therefore, you will have no rights as a tenant whatsoever and could be evicted at any time. We would advise you to leave sub-lets well alone unless you know exactly what you are talking about.

Another common problem is regarding the deposit. It is quite common for people to find replacement tenants for a flat mate who is leaving. If you are replacing an existing tenant, make sure you draw up a new contract rather than taking on the old one and also carry out a full inventory to state the condition of the accommodation when you moved in. Ensure that you do not pay your deposit to the departing housemate, as this is the responsibility of the landlord to make sure any problems with the accommodation are paid for out of the old tenants’ deposit. This is the best way to avoid getting stung for damage that was already done when you moved.

If you follow all these guidelines then you shouldn't have any problems finding yourself a nice place to live. If at any stage you require help with talking to landlords or verifying contracts please don't hesitate to contact us, that's what we are here for.

Guide written by Polly Martin, English exchange student Italy, 2006/2007.